Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) operatives seized P2.9 million worth of agarwood from two illegal traders earlier this month, the agency reported on Wednesday, June 30.
Conducted by members of the newly-formed DENR-Environmental Law Enforcement and Protection Service (ELEPS) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the operation that led to the confiscation of the tree parts took place last June 15.
ELEPS Director Reuel Sorilla said 18 kilograms of agarwood, which have a market value of P2.9 million, were seized from suspects Mark Gil Espino and Nathaniel Avelino at a coffee shop parking lot on West Avenue in Quezon City.
“But the real worth of the contraband is placed at P29 million, or at least 10 times more than its market value, if we will factor in the environmental services that were lost as a result of the illegal cutting of these threatened trees,” Sorilla said.
Also recovered from the illegal traders were an Asian utility vehicle, cellular phones, and a weighing scale.
Sorilla said the DENR-NBI operatives started their case build-up against Espino and Avelino as early as November 2020, following information provided by a concerned citizen to the NBI Agent Habeas Corpus of the Environmental Crime Division.
He pointed out that determining the sum of all costs from an environmental crime should factor in the lost environmental services “to drive home the point that a standing tree is way far better than an apprehended undocumented tree.”
“This is where Secretary Roy A. Cimatu’s marching order to ELEPS is anchored. Our paramount objective is one of preemptive defense to deter the commission of environmental crimes by strengthening DENR’s institutional capacity to prevent illegal logging. But if we have to run after the perpetrators, then we will do it,” he said.
The illegal trade of agarwood has resulted in the indiscriminate cutting of Lapnisan and Lanete, which are both included in the national list of threatened Philippine plants per DENR Administrative Order 2007-01.
“It is very difficult to tell if a tree has produced agarwood, and so this results in the indiscriminate cutting of Lapnisan and Lanete,” explained Rogelio Demelletes, Jr., DENR senior ecosystems management specialist and ELEPS officer.
Agarwood is a product of the growth of a type of fungal infection, called Phialophora parasitic, inside the heartwood of Lapnisan and Lanete. It is a highly valuable product for medicine and fragrance purposes.
Once infected, the trees defend themselves by producing an aromatic resin called aloes, a dark and moist substance that slowly embeds into the heartwood through time, thus creating agarwood.
Espino and Avelino are currently held at the NBI detention facility in Manila. They are facing violations of Republic Act (RA) 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act and Presidential Decree (PD) 705, otherwise known as the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.